Parchman Penitentiary (Location Key)


Better known as Parchman Farm, the Mississippi state prison at Parchman is a maximum-security facility that has been in operation since 1901. It is located in the Delta, the often-flooded part of the state that lies along the Mississippi River; a major flood provides the occasion for the story that Faulkner tells in the "Old Man" chapters of Wild Palms, a non-Yoknapatawpha novel that features an unnamed Parchman inmate. The penitentiary figures in 9 of the Yoknapatawpha fictions. It is only mentioned in the four texts that refer to Negro characters who are serving time there: "There Was a Queen" (Caspey), "Go Down, Moses" (the unnamed father of Samuel Worsham Beauchamp), Go Down, Moses (the unnamed moonshiner whom Lucas turns in), and The Reivers (the "boy back there in Jefferson" whom Ned mentions, 139-40). If it were not for the point of law in "A Point of Law," two other black men - Lucas himself and George Wilkins - would have done time there for making whiskey. The "penitentiary" is also mentioned in "Smoke," where Anselm Holland Jr. is the one white man in the fictions who goes to prison for making moonshine (6). According to Wikipedia, in 1917 90% of the inmates at Parchman were Negroes. But interestingly, the only fictions that take readers inside the prison to set scenes there feature white prisoners, like the convict in "Old Man." The white character Monk is the first instance of this: much of the short story "Monk" takes place at what the narrative refers to as "the penitentiary" (49). In this text the location includes a cell, the warden's house, the mess hall, and the death house. The character who does the most time in Parchman has a similar name: Mink. In the Snopes trilogy Mink Snopes spends 38 years in the penitentiary for the murder of Houston, which includes time added on for trying to break out. Mink is joined there for a few years by Montgomery Ward Snopes, whom Flem arranges to have sent there in order to trick Mink into making that escape attempt. Mink's experiences in The Mansion provide Faulkner's readers with the most detailed description of Parchman. The description of it includes the "single gate guarded day and night by men with shotguns, and inside it the low grim brick buildings with their barred windows" (54). The Mansion explains what Lucas means in Go Down, Moses when he thinks about the moonshiner who is now "plowing and chopping and picking cotton which was not his on the State penal farm at Parchman" (33): part of the punishment of the prisoners at Parchman, including Mink, is to work a state-owned cotton field. Parchman also housed female inmates during a portion of its history, but all the characters Faulkner sends there are male.

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